When I first moved to New York City for school last August, it took me a while to download any dating apps. I’m naturally suspicious of all strangers, so first dates tend to heighten my anxiety. Eventually, I convinced myself I needed to put myself out there in this new city. The intention was to make memories – even bad ones I could joke about down the road. I matched with a guy with whom I shared a lot of interests. We went out and it felt natural; he seemed like somebody I would have been friends with back in my Virginian hometown.

Our second date made me swear off dating apps.

During that date, he set the mood by telling me about a childhood best friend who was shot and killed in front of him. It felt strange. He was telling me all these awful things but in a weirdly nonchalant manner. The entire time, I noticed that he was carefully gauging my reactions. Then, he started to cry. It became my job to comfort a boy I’d known for a total of eight hours. There wasn’t much I could do other than pat him on the back sympathetically and try not to let on that I was panicking. After I made up an excuse, I went home and had a panic attack on my dorm floor.

What do you expect from a stranger after you dump all those emotions on them? I still don’t know what reaction he wanted from me. Though he put me in such an awful position, I don’t wish him any ill will. I mostly just feel bad for the guy.

Variations of this situation seem to happen to me a lot. I once felt flattered, accepting this willingness to open up to me as a positive reflection of me being a good friend. Now, I just wonder why men feel entitled to burden me with the emotions they won’t burden other males with.

What is Emotional Labor?

Relationships – whether romantic or platonic – can take a lot of energy and time to maintain. This concept is called “emotional labor.” It’s not always a bad thing, but it can become toxic if the amount of labor contributed by both parties is unfairly divided. More often a heavier pressure is placed on the women in all sorts of relationships. They are often forced to become unofficial emotional consultants for the men in their lives.

(*For the purpose of this article, I will focus on female-male relationships. However, the same concepts apply to relationships between all people so feel free to replace he/him with she/her, they/them, etc. to fit your personal situation.)

So what are some examples of emotional labor? I think immediately of people who take their feelings out on their “inner circle” through methods such as the silent treatment, moping, or cryptic posts on social media. People who make their feelings your problem, but refuse to speak about what actually happened without it being coaxed out of them. This is a sign of emotional immaturity on their part and increased – often unreasonable – emotional labor on yours. Additionally, a refusal to process these emotions and work towards a solution indicates a tendency to emotion dump. This is toxic.

“Emotional labor often refers to pulling out the feelings of your partner. They may walk around brooding or sulking or upset. They make their feelings your problem, encouraging you try to guess what you can do to make it better, without actually communicating.”

Relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein

“I Don’t Need Therapy, I Have You.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Feeling like you’re the only one who understands and can help him makes you feel special, which feels good. But what really happens when you’ve become his rock, his world, his everything? An unhealthy emotional dependence, very likely.

We are told frequently that women are more intuitive, more empathetic, more innately willing and able to offer succor and advice. How convenient that this cultural construct gives men an excuse to be emotionally lazy. How convenient that it casts feelings-based work as “an internal need, an aspiration, supposedly coming from the depths of our female character.”

“Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor by Jess Zimmerman

Women have a “duty” to provide emotional labor, though strictly uncompensated and out of the goodness of our hearts. It is not considered “real work.” Females, your job is simple: he comes to you with a problem, you identify it, and hold his hands while you guide him through it. It’s nothing against his guy friends, they just don’t understand him the way you do. Something about the way you really listen makes him feel closer to you, like he can tell you everything. And he will, because you’re still listening.

This is manipulative whether he intends it to be or not.

“TO BE CLEAR, when women say we want men to start expressing their feelings and exploring their trauma, we do not mean find a woman in close proximity to you and dump all your shit into her lap… don’t turn the “men get in touch with your feelings”–movement into another opportunity to exploit women for their emotional labor.”

@dronme on Instagram

I used to have a few friends who often engaged in emotional dumping – I’m talking nightly 3-4 hour phone calls filled with lots of crying. Though I was never excited to answer these calls, I always did because I felt it my duty as a friend. It was always exhausting, but at the same time it gave me a sense of self-worth. Sadly, the difference in emotional availability was always obvious after I would call those same friends in need and receive a five-minute exchange and a “that sucks” in return.

Instead, it’s a good idea to set boundaries and suggest your friend seek outside help. You can’t always be mentally equipped with the energy or ability to solve everyone’s problems. It’s not your job to. If you’re too busy addressing everybody else’s hurt, when will you have time for your own?

Toxic Masculinity

A very large reason that females are the sole providers of emotional labor is because of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity makes it so that openly expressing feelings is a “female thing.” A lot of young men don’t get as much coaching when it comes to managing feelings. This mindset makes it so that a lot of men are unable to form intimate relationships with fellow men, thus making the burden fall on the partners of these men.

Thus, the wives or girlfriends of these emotionally-stunted dudes are left to play all roles: the best friend, the lover, the career advisor, the stylist, the emotional cheerleader, the mother, the social secretary…. the list goes on and on. What is he feeling? What is he avoiding feeling? It’s an exhausting process. He’s certainly not going to do the same for her.

When Being “His Everything” Becomes Too Much

Women oftentimes see the best in people and want the best for people. These tendencies could drive women’s needs to “fix” those around her, like emotionally unavailable men. We hope by giving our emotional attention readily, we can put together those broken pieces and fulfill his potential to be a better person.

This isn’t our fault. From a young age, society teaches us if we’re funny, pretty, and smart enough, the power of love will take care of the rest. Pop culture has made it seem, even to women, that it’s their duty to look after men.

Examples include Noah from Kissing Booth, Edward from Twilight, Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl– all incredible toxic “bad boys” who have chosen a “good girl” to save them from themselves. These are men with deep-rooted issues, but enough sweet moments to make the toxicity redeemable. The man proceeds to sap her of all available energy, telling her she means everything to him. The emotions of the man in question become the responsibility of the woman. Thanks to popular media, women are oftentimes led to believe that it just takes “the right woman” to fix a man, and willingly offer this emotional labor out of love.

Tell Your Man To Seek Help. Like, Real Help

I can’t speak for all women, but I know personally I benefit from having a wider, established web of confidants. This includes friends, family, and a therapist. Additionally, I don’t typically form close friendships with people I can’t fathom having “real talk” with. At the end of the day, take into account your emotional limits and your loved one’s emotional needs.

Ladies, don’t force yourself into being the shoulder to cry on all the time. And certainly don’t excuse his actions based on his past traumas. This burden should not be yours alone to bear. Remind the men around you that relying on the emotional intelligence of females in their life is not a therapy substitution. Men need to get professional help or learn to confide in their male friends.

Women deserve a damn break.

Read also:
On Mad Women And Folklore
Social Justice 101: Toxic Masculinity
I Used a Dating App To Figure Out My Sexuality